Best Short Hikes in Glacier National Park



Glacier National Park, located in Montana, USA, is a hiker’s paradise. With over 700 miles of trails, it’s full of amazing short hikes and extended backpacking opportunities. If you’re planning a trip to Montana and hoping to enjoy the best short hikes in Glacier National Park, you’ve come to the right place.

There are many spectacular short hikes in Glacier National Park. You may not be an avid hiker but still want to get out and enjoy the stunning scenery. Maybe you’re short on time and would like an easy hike in Glacier National Park. A short walk is a great way to see the natural beauty of the park without too much effort.

We have been to Glacier National Park many times and we love it! In fact, we rank Glacier National Park as our favorite National Park in the US! We have visited in the spring, which is amazing for its own reasons, and during the peak summer season. Glacier National Park has some of our favorite hikes we’ve done!

We’ve organized this list of the best short hikes in Glacier National Park by park area. Lake McDonald, Many Glacier, Logan’s Pass, St. Mary’s, and the North Fork all have awesome easy hikes. All of the hikes on this list are rated easy and are 4 miles or less round trip. Now, let’s get to it! Here are the best short hikes in Glacier National Park.

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‘Glass’ lakes are a reason to visit Glacier National Park in spring

But first… Things you should know before you go

During peak season, you need a vehicle reservation to enter the National Park between 6am and 3pm. If you show up without a ticket, you’ll be turned away at the park entrance and out of luck.

New in 2023, a reservation is required for four areas of the park, including Going-to-the-Sun Road, North Fork, Two Medicine, and Many Glacier. Each location requires a separate reservation and has unique details. Before you go, check this website to plan your trip and this website to buy your ticket.

Additionally, you will need a National Park Pass or America the Beautiful pass to enter Glacier National Park. Your pass can be purchased here.

Lastly, never hike in Glacier National Park without your bear spray. Glacier is grizzly country and you have to be prepared for an encounter while on the trails.

while hiking in Glacier National Park we saw bears.  A mother bear and two cubs.  Here is a bear cub surrounded by lush green grass and wildflowers.
Bears were seen in Josephine Lake!

Best Short Hikes in Glacier National Park

Lake McDonald area

West shore of Lake McDonald and Rocky Point

Walk Stats:

  • West shore of Lake McDonald
    • 14.8 mi (you can turn around whenever you want)
    • Elevation Gain: Mostly Level
    • Trailhead: 0.2 miles north of Fish Creek Campground
  • Puerto Penasco
    • 2.2 miles
    • Elevation Gain: 85 ft (26 m)
    • Trailhead: 0.2 miles north of Fish Creek Campground

Now, I know what you’re thinking! All the hikes on this list are supposed to be 4 miles or less, so why is the first one on your list almost 15 miles?!?! The west shore of Lake McDonald is an easy walk along the shoreline of Lake McDonald. It is very flat and offers views that will make you pinch yourself.

For this hike, we recommend starting with the Rocky Point Trail. Once you’re done, you can decide if you want to continue along the coast and exactly how long you’d like to go. Feel free to turn around whenever your little heart desires.

On this hike, enjoy views of Lake McDonald and the surrounding snow-capped mountains. Also, don’t forget to go down into the water to admire the crystal clear water and the uniquely colored pebbles that form the bottom of the lake.

Sitting on a dock at Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park.  The blue lake has a beautiful backdrop of snow-capped mountains.
lake mcdonald

Avalanche Lake and Trail of the Cedars

Walk Stats:

  • avalanche lake
    • 4 miles
    • Elevation Gain: 500 ft (152 m)
    • Trailhead: Avalanche Picnic Area
  • Cedars Trail (Optional)
    • 0.7 miles
    • Elevation Gain: Flat
    • Trailhead: Avalanche Picnic Area

Avalanche Lake is one of the most popular hikes in Glacier National Park and for good reason. The hike is short, easy, and has an amazing payoff at the end!

The hike to Avalanche Lake begins on the Trail of the Cedars, which is a paved loop trail. If you want, you can do half of the Trail of the Cedars on the hike to Avalanche Lake and finish the other half on the hike back from Avalanche Lake. It adds a bit of distance, but it’s a very flat trail that introduces you to many of the trees and plants you see growing around the park.

On the trail to Avalanche Lake, you’ll hike along Avalanche Creek. At some points the creek will be a slow, calm trickle and at other points it will be deep into a canyon with powerful rapids.

Eventually you will reach Avalanche Lake. A crystal clear glacier fed lake with an absolutely stunning mountain backdrop. During most of the year, you will find waterfalls coming down the mountain and flowing into the lake. It really is an amazing site, easily making it one of the best short hikes in Glacier National Park.

Avalanche Lake in Glacier National Park in spring.  A crystal clear lake surrounded by snowy mountains
Avalanche Lake is one of the reasons spring is the best time to visit Glacier National Park

lake howe

Walk Stats:

  • 3.2 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 240 ft (73 m)
  • Trailhead: Howe Lake Trailhead on Inside North Fork Road

Howe Lake is an easy hike that is off the radar for most Glacier National Park tourists. This trail is usually very quiet and leads to a very nice fishing lake.

Did you know you can fish in Glacier without a license? And the fishing is very good if you venture far from the popular lakes. Pick up a fishing guide at the visitor center and try your luck in the park, and maybe Lake Howe.

The hike ends with a relatively steep climb up a ridge. Once you are at the top of the ridge you will be able to see Lake Howe. If you wish, you can continue your walk to the lake. At the bottom, you’ll see amazing views of the lake and surrounding peaks. On a calm day, you’ll be rewarded with a stunning reflection in the lake.

For this to be a short hike, under 4 miles, you must use the Many Glacier Hotel concession boat. Of course, you have the option to walk all the way and skip the shuttle to avoid the fee. If so, this hike becomes about 7 miles round trip.

However, if you are trying to decide which hikes to do, we HIGHLY recommend this one! It is one of the best in the entire National Park and well worth the effort or the small transportation fee.

The shuttle takes you across Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine. From there you will follow the trail through a quiet forest and past a couple of small streams. Stroll over a suspension footbridge and along some boardwalks until you finally arrive at beautiful Grinnell Lake.

The lake is a beautiful emerald color as the lake is fed by the Grinnell Glacier. It is one of our favorite lakes in the entire park and it is impressive to see it in person. Grinnell Lake is definitely one of the best short hikes in Glacier National Park.


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